Taming the Wild Mosquito

We know they are coming. Our neighbors have asked as they already being attacked. But we still walk in relative safety in the dawn and dusk. We have not been ambushed near the creek or in the deepest part of our woods. We have left the door open by mistake and the hoards have not entered.

This is unusual, but it is the third year in a row that we have begun the summer without an onslaught of mosquitoes. We had out-of-season burst in March when the temperatures were unseasonably warm, and we have been attacked by black flies and yellow flies and horse flies, but the tiny Florida state bird has blessedly been absent from our property so far this summer.

But they are coming and we are prepared.

Every year I concoct both a natural insect repellent as well as an after-shower spritz to stop the itching from the assortment of creepy crawlies that share our space in north central Florida: chiggers, fire ants, ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, and the like. We also use a natural commercial (and locally made) product called Beat It, which works very well.

We grow many helpful herbs in our garden during various times of the year: lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), yarrow (Achillea multifolium), calendula (Calendula officinalis), lavender (Lavandula sp.), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile and Matricaria recutita), rose geranium (Pelargonium capitatum). Not natives, but helpful to repel the mosquitoes and soothe the itching of various insects. These are gathered and made into tinctures (often with witch hazel) or salves and saved for summer use.

Easy Insect Repellent

8 ounces of infused witch hazel (or 100 proof vodka) or plain witch hazel

10 drops of citronella essential oil

Variation: Infuse* the witch hazel or vodka with fresh rose germanium, yarrow, or lemon grass. See instructions for making tinctures (alcohol infusions).

Easy After-Shower Spritz

4 ounces of homemade calendula tincture*

4 ounces of homemade chickweed tincture*

Or 1 ounce of commercial calendula tincture and 1 ounce of commercial chickweed tincture and 6 ounces of witch hazel

10-20 drops of lavender essential oil

10 drops of chamomile essential oil

*Put dried calendula petals (or other plant materials) in a quart jar and then cover the plant material with vodka or witch hazel. It is best to make rose germanium, yarrow, lemon grass, or chickweed tinctures with fresh plant material when the plants are available. Chickweed unfortunately is usually only found from the late fall to the late spring, although you may discover some growing in a well-watered, shady part of your summer garden.

I also try to gather plantain (Plantago sp) and chickweed (Stellaria media) in the cooler months: both make wonderful salves that can be applied to bites and stings. Of course, the juice works, too, but the fresh plant is not available in these hot summer months.

Among the native plants available for insect repellent this time of year are beautybush, (Callicarpa americana) and dog fennel (Eupatorium sp. ).

According to an article by Luis Pons botanist Charles Bryson, recalls his grandfather’s advice about using the crushed leaves of C. americana to keep away biting insects. Originally used to keep insects off work animals, people began to realize they could rub the mashed leaves on themselves. Research studies have since isolated callicarpenal as the plant compound that prevents mosquito bites. So one of these days, it will probably show up in a commercial product. But in the meantime as American beautybush is abundant in Florida, why not make your own by infusing the leaves in witch hazel or 100 proof vodka for three to six weeks. You can add the tasteless but pretty ripe berries (when they are distinctly purple) to salads in moderation. There are also recipes for jelly, but then anything tastes good when you add sugar! Some texts indicate the berries may be toxic in large quantities. so be cautious about eating these even though the birds eat them with abandon.

Remember that such repellents are not as long lasting as commercial brands and so you may have to reapply often. You can make the treatment last longer on your skin if, after straining the infusion, you add a few drops of oil, such as jojoba oil or almond oil, which is good for the skin as well.

I was told by a longtime resident that the native people here also used dog fennel, Eupatorium capillifolium and E. compositifolium to discourage mosquitoes. The technique was to beat the seeding fall plants over your body and clothing. This has a short term effect, but it does work. (Or perhaps it is an illusion and really the air movement is keeping the critters away!) Eupatorium plants are so sticky in the early summer before reaching maturity at three to six feet that I started thinking that it might make a good repellent, so I packed some in a jar with witch hazel, and I will report back in a few weeks. The one thing about experimenting with natural insect repellents is that you never know when you may brew up something that actually attracts them instead!


2 Responses

  1. Hi,
    Fantastic website! I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts on herbal life in Florida. I live up here in Georgia and was wondering if you had ever made a mosquito repellant with dog fennel.
    Thanks for the info. I look forward to reading more.
    Tara Carrin

    Posted on May 25th, 2011 at 5:25 pm

  2. Hey Tara,

    I did a survial class this weekend in East Marion, Florida and in which we had to make our own primitive shelters. I cut down a lot of dog fennel trees and stacked them up as my bed and surely didnt get bit once the whole night.

    Hope this helps,

    Posted on October 3rd, 2011 at 8:09 pm

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